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Published Cost Estimates of Dental School Are Totally Wrong

Imagine if you told a patient you'd charge them $1,000 for a root canal. Then, they get the bill in the mail and it says they owe $1,250. The patient would probably be upset right? Dental schools are effectively doing this to dental students all around the country with faulty cost estimates of dental school.

Average private school dental student leaves with over $500,000 in debt

Right now the typical dentist I consult with has a student loan average debt of around $400,000. There is a big range around this student loan average and most clients have between $200,000 (state school with in-state tuition) to $800,000 (specialist who used forbearance during residency). However, these numbers are going to get far worse in the future.

Consider the 2021-2022 published cost of a Tufts Dental School education according to its website.

Program yearPublished total cost
First year$135,754
Second year$137,865
Third year$135,343
Fourth year$122,529

Here's the thing. These numbers just aren't true for an entering first-year student. They're based on current cost of attendance. You cannot lock these numbers in any more than I can go buy season tickets to the St. Louis Cardinals in 10 years at today's rates.

Dental schools should show the expected four-year cost of attendance, take into account probable 5% tuition and fee increases per year, and factor in inflation into the cost of living. Tufts lists the cost of tuition at $84,840 each year.

That's totally wrong. Tufts officials KNOW that they will not be leaving tuition alone for an entire four-year period, as do the other dental schools that list their expected cost this way.

These numbers also leave out the crucial fact that loans accrue interest while you're in school.

The real four-year cost of dental school

I'll use a 4% rate of increase in the total cost of attendance in my real estimate of the four-year overall cost of Tufts dental.

I'll also assume that you accrue interest at a rate of 7% per year and that you borrow the entire cost of attendance. We'll also assume an origination fee of 3% of the loan amount. The total will represent the true cost of Tufts school of dental medicine for the class of 2026.

Program yearRealistic total cost
First year$178,978
Second year$178,694
Third year$171,888
Fourth year$151,901

Every dental school misrepresents its cost of attendance

I picked on Tufts because it is one of the country's most expensive dental schools. Even so, these numbers are very typical of private dental schools or out-of-state public schools.

The cost estimates never account for tuition and fee increases that will almost certainly happen. The estimates also leave out the cost of interest accumulation while you're in school.

I'm no lawyer, but I think future dental students burdened by mountains of debt might have few options left but to pursue a class action lawsuit against the university for false advertising. If the four-year published cost is $531,491 but typical dental school graduates leave with $600,000, the published estimate is misleading.

I've verified this is what happens by speaking to hundreds of dentists with six-figure student debt while doing student loan repayment consults. They told me how their school would give them a tuition increase notice, but they never thought about comparing that to the published cost of attendance when they were applying.

One dentist kept the cost estimate he received at orientation and shared it with me. The two figures of what they told him he would pay versus what he actually paid were wildly divergent.

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How to figure out how much dental school will cost

To get a realistic idea of how much dental school debt you will have at graduation, you need to make some adjustments to the numbers the school gives you.

Assume each year, dental school tuition increases at a rate of 4% (as long as there are more applicants than seats, the price of a dental education will go up).

Project a 4% rate of inflation for living expenses just to be safe (most schools assume constant personal expenses for all four years, which is unrealistic).

Then account for accruing interest at a rate of 7%. D1 expenses accrue for four years, D2 expenses accrue for three years, etc.

Increase the result by 3% to account for the ~1% origination fee with Stafford Loans and the ~4.27% fee with Grad PLUS Loans. Note that the majority of the cost of private dental school tuition gets funded with higher-cost Grad PLUS Loans since Stafford Loans are limited to $40,500 per year.

Putting it together to project the cost of dental school

Here's what NYU Dental school lists as the cost of dental school for the class of 2026.

Program yearEducation expensesLiving expenses
First year$102,861$41,604
Second year$102,160$41,604
Third year$102,160$41,604
Fourth year$102,160$38,138

The grand total would be $572,291 if you borrowed only the dollars listed on the dental school cost of attendance.

Dental school tuition is higher than it appears

Let's look at the first year educational cost of $102,861. We'll need to multiply $102,861*(1+0.07*4)= $131,662.

This is the impact of accrued interest. We'll also increase this by 3% to adjust for origination fees, so $131,662*(1+0.03) = $135,612 is my projection of the indebtedness for the first year's educational expense.

For years besides year one, we should assume a 4% tuition increase.

Financial aid doesn't adjust for inflation in living expenses

For the fourth year living expense of $38,138, I'll adjust for four year's worth of 4% inflation, assuming the financial aid office doesn't have their pulse on the local real estate market. That makes $38,138*(1.04^(4-1)) into $42,900.

Now, tack on one year of accrued interest at 7% plus 3% origination fees, and that's equal to $42,900*(1+0.07)*(1+0.03) = $47,280. That's the number we'll use for that year in terms of how much debt a graduating dental student would have.

What this new dentist would owe

Making all of the adjustments above, here's what the cost would look like in terms of what the dentist would actually borrow for all years of dental school.

Actual DDS debtFor educationFor living
First year$135,612$54,851
Second year$132,415$53,925
Third year$129,745$52,838
Fourth year$126,649$47,280

The grand total of student loan debt that a rising first-year student could expect to owe at graduation would be about $733,314.

Compared to the $572,291 overall cost listed online, that's about 28% higher. Caveat Emptor (may the buyer beware).

Yes, cost estimates of dental school are wrong, sadly you'll have to repay it

There are a host of different strategies to mitigate a huge dental school student loan bill. If you owe a lot relative to your income, you should optimize repayment programs for federal student loans for maximum benefit.

If your debt-to-income ratio is moderate, then shopping for private refinancing rates will help. I have affiliate agreements that get you cash-back bonuses for dental student loan refinancing that you don't get if you visit the companies' websites, directly.

Outside of some miracle, you're going to have to pay back this debt. The same financial aid offices that produce four-year program cost estimates of dental school that are wildly inaccurate might not provide the help you're looking for.

If that's you, I can help. You can help future dentists by warning them to add 20% to 30% to whatever total four-year cost estimates of dental school that their prospective program hands them.

We can help you figure out your dental school loans

We help dentists and dental specialists like you conquer huge balances for federal loans and private loans with custom plans. If you owe more than $200,000 and have anxiety about what to do, we'd love to clear things up for you for a one-time flat fee.

The cost of dental school is high enough without making a bunch of repayment mistakes and making it much worse. Focus on owning your own private practice, fixing your cash flow so you can grow your assets, and start living financially free.

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